Archive for category Writing
Here’s Steven Pinker’s assessment and advice. But should we take advice about good writing from an essay that begins with the most trite clichés?
Together with wearing earth tones, driving Priuses, and having a foreign policy, the most conspicuous trait of the American professoriate may be the prose style called academese.
Teddy West, my writing prof from college, would not approve!
Stanford business professor Chip Heath and his Aspen Institute-consultant brother Dan confirm from abundant research that the ideas that make the most immediate and lasting impact on people generally have qualities that have nothing to do with their veracity: simplicity, unexpectedness, concreteness, a measure of credibility, emotional impact, and a vivid exemplifying narrative (Made to Stick). Thus contrary ideas that are more complex, banal, abstract, equally credible, dull, and bereft of a fascinating story cannot compete—even if they have the single quality that matters: truth. (See more at: http://blog.oup.com/2014/07/butterfly-matrix-christian-epistemology/#sthash.1V6CYviA.dpuf)
Does this mean that Sophists win? Does it mean that truth does not have a rhetorical force of its own, as it were?
I just this moment got a notification from WordPress that I started this blog 7 years ago today. Where does the time go?
It hasn’t always gone to blogging, that I can tell you. But I have been somewhat consistent over all these years in spouting off about this or that. Lately, as you might be able to tell, I’ve had the itch to put a lot more out there for your reading enjoyment and possible enlightenment (or, if I’ve messed up somewhere, endarkenment). I hope this little writing itch will continue, mainly because as I’ve preached to my students for decades, writing is not simply taking dictation from your head. We write to find out what we think, and I for one am certainly interested in finding out what I think. I hope that there might be something in that for you, too, but there are no guarantees.
If you have looked in from time to time, thanks! I hope all is well with you and continues to be so!
Writing is one of the most effective ways to access an inner world of feelings that is the key to recovering from genuine trauma and everyday stress alike.
In an interview with John R. Searle, there was this exchange (edited):
Searle: That’s my main objection to contemporary philosophy: they’ve lost sight of the questions. …
Interviewer: … But what advice would you give to a young philosopher starting out to not lose sight of the questions?
Searle: Well, my advice would be to take questions that genuinely worry you. Take questions that really keep you awake at nights, and work on them with passion. I think what we try to do is bully the graduate students. The graduate students suffer worse than the undergraduates. We bully the graduate students into thinking that they have to accept our conception of what is a legitimate philosophical problem, so very few of them come with their own philosophical problems. They get an inventory of problems that they get from their professors. My bet would be to follow your own passion. That would be my advice. That’s what I did.
Indeed! The idea is to find the questions that matter, at least to you and pursue them doggedly.
I wrote an essay every week, which he [Dagfinn Føllesdal] spent an hour talking to me about. During one session, he gave me one of the two best pieces of advice about writing philosophy I ever received. He said “Mr. Soames, you should write so that if you make a mistake, anyone who knows the subject will immediately be able to identify it.” The other piece of good advice, later given by Judy Thomson, was “Don’t be afraid of mistakes; if you never make mistakes, you’ll never be a success.” Not to worry.
Enough already. Our indifference to how we share the fruits of our intellectual labors is a betrayal of our calling to enhance the spread of knowledge. In writing badly, we are wasting each other’s time, sowing confusion and error, and turning our profession into a laughingstock.